Forsyth may soon be home to a Bitcoin-type processing farm that will be profitable to the city, but neighbors of other such farms say they come with a headache of constant noise.
Four of the five members of the Forsyth Planning & Zoning Commission heard presentations from two entities requesting changes at a called meeting on Thursday, Dec. 30. Planning & Zoning recommended a change in zoning for 1.83 acres on Berner Avenue from Residential Multi-Family to Manufacturing/Industrial and recommended annexation with Residential-1 zoning for 35 acres planned as the Manor at Montpelier subdivision.
The applicants will take their requests to Forsyth city council on Feb. 7 with the recommendations from Planning & Zoning after the changes are advertised for input from citizens as legally required.
Plans for the Berner Avenue property are for a cryptocurrency mining farm, an operation related to cryptocurrencies, such at Bitcoin. The operation would only employ three people locally but would generate substantial revenue for the city through the sale of the electricity it will require.
City manager Janice Hall said the company is interested in the site because it is adjacent to the city’s electric substation. The property owner said the city referred the company as a prospect for buying the property.
Forsyth partnered with six other cities associated with MEAG (Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia) in mid 2019 to provided electricity to Blockstream, a cryptocurrency mining farm in Adel (Cook County), Ga. The venture posed some risk initially but has proved very profitable for Forsyth and its partner cities. The Blockstream operation in Adel uses about 270 megawatts of power compared to about 24-25 megawatts for the whole city of Adel.
Neighbors of the Blockstream project haven’t been as happy with the company as the cities providing power, however. Some are disturbed by the noise generated 24/7 by the fans that cool the massive computer operation, describing it as like living next to an airport runway.
Nathaniel Persky of Brooklyn, N.Y. gave a presentation for the Planning & Zoning Commission on cryptocurrency mining and answered questions about his plans for the Berner Avenue property. The plan is to put eight modified shipping containers (gross square footage of 2,560) to house specialized computers and servers. He plans to put the operation at the back of the property and leave as much of the pine tree woods on the front of the property as possible for a buffer. A long driveway from East Main Street will access the operation.
Planning & Zoning chair Steve Coleman said Persky was knowledgeable about the operation and eager to explain it, but he urged him to focus on the information the Planning & Zoning Commission needed to decide whether to recommend re-zoning the property. Coleman said although there are some houses near the site, much of the surrounding property is industrial/manufacturing. He said as well as the electrical substation, it touches the old Vaughn mill. Persky said he may offer to buy another vacant lot nearby.
Planning & Zoning vice chair Martin Presley agreed with Coleman that in spite of Persky’s detailed explanation, cryptocurrency mining isn’t easy to understand. He said if Persky hadn’t come to the meeting, he would have asked to table the zoning change until he could do more research on it. He said he plans to learn as much as he can because he knows he will get questions from other citizens.
Presley said that when asked about noise, Persky said that the computer processing operation makes a humming-type sound but that it shouldn’t be very loud (maybe 80 decibels) and would be muted by the buffer of trees.
Coleman said Persky said there would be noise from the fans, but the noise wouldn’t be loud at any of the residences. The nearest house is across the street. Coleman said the pines on the property are thick.
A check online about Bitcoin processing and noise finds an interview on Dec. 7, 2021 with Roland Tiveron, who lives near Blockstream in Adel. The interview was conducted by reporter Hayward Fowler to gain information as a cryptocurrency processing operation is proposed near Tifton.
Tiveron said in spite of efforts to soundproof his house and wear ear plugs whenever outside, the constant noise has affected his quality of life and his hearing. He said it is very difficult to have a conversation in his yard because of the noise, and the sound even generates ripples across his pond as it gets louder during off-peak electricity hours. He said the operations should be built far away from any residences.
Besides numerous articles about the noise of the Blockstream operation in Adel, including one by the Wall Street Journal on Nov. 12, 2021, there are articles about noise complaints from neighbors of cryptocurrency processing centers in Tennessee, North Carolina and other states. One describes the sound as like a giant dentist drill.
Mayor Eric Wilson said the cryptocurrency company, which isn’t associated with Blockstream, worked with consultants to evaluate several cities before deciding it would like to locate in Forsyth. It then sought property as close to an electric substation as possible and made an offer to the owner. Wilson said the city will learn as much as possible about the project, including possible noise problems, before approving it.
“We’re working through the process and doing our due diligence,” said Wilson.
He noted that the planned cryptocurrency processing farm for Forsyth is much smaller than Blockstream in Adele. He said the city may set decibel noise limits and the company should find ways to mitigate noise.
In other business, the Planning & Zoning Commission recommended approval of annexing the 35 acres where the Manor at Montpelier subdivision is planned, but voted 3-1 to recommend R-1 zoning rather than R-3 zoning requested for the annexed land. Coleman explained the difference is that R-1 requires larger lots for houses; R-1 requires 1-acre lots, while R-3 requires one-third acre lots, the smallest allowed in the city.
Planning & Zoning members Hal Clarke, Phillip English and Presley voted for the R-3 zoning while Coleman cast the dissenting vote. Member Kathy Rowland wasn’t present. Coleman said that other subdivisions in the area, including one built in the 1970’s and the earlier phases of the Manor at Montpelier, have smaller lots. He thinks it may not be feasible to build a subdivision on the property if 1-acre lots are required because of the wetlands associated with two creeks on it. He said other members expressed concern about traffic and congestion from more houses on the property.
Three Oaks Development of Macon planned 10.4 acres of open space and 56 lots (1.6 lots per acre) on the 35 acres. Steven Rowland of Rowland Engineering presented the plans to the Planning & Zoning Commission.